It is one of the first major comments in which Iran directly blamed Israel.
SETH J. FRANTZMAN
While the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was concerned that the rise in fuel prices could lead to protests, they were unprepared for the extent of unrest that began in mid-November and led to the deaths of hundreds of Iranian demonstrators. IRGC commander Esmaeil Kowsari said over the weekend that the protests were part of the “dirty goals of the Great Satan and the Zionists.” The “Great Satan” is a term the Iranian regime uses for the United States.
It is one of the first major comments in which Iran directly blamed Israel, though the Islamic Republic had already blamed foreign forces for stirring up the protests.
Kowsari is a soldier and politician who is deputy chief of the Sarallah headquarters, which deals with security during times of civil unrest. This means he was key to suppressing the protests. According to his interview with Tasnim news, also reported by Radio Farda, he said that some of the rioters who were arrested had “confessed to connections with Israel.” Iran has been accused of torturing the protesters into confessions. “When the authorities say it, there is definitely evidence. These individuals accepted this charge when they were interrogated.”
He gave the impromptu comments to a Tasnim news crew. He made other comments over the weekend between Friday and Monday during a speech to commemorate various Iranian “martyrs” at the Al-Reza mosque in Tehran. He claimed that ISIS was created by the Americans and that Saudi Arabia and Israel were also behind ISIS. “Iran recognized the enemy’s footsteps in the recent turmoil very well.” He claimed that the criminal hands of the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel have come to Iran to harm the “resistance” and act against “resistance nations.” This is Iran’s term for the network of pro-Iranian regime proxies, such as Hezbollah, Shi’ite militias and Houthi rebels, as well as the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria.
In the Iranian regime’s worldview everything in the Middle East boils down to a vast conspiracy in which the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia are opposed to the “axis of resistance” led by Iran. Iranian regime rhetoric compares this to some sort of Lord of the Rings-style massive global battle between their forces and the forces of the US, which are depicted like Mordor or something satanic.
The problem for the regime’s narrative is that across the region, protesters have been protesting Iran’s role, from Lebanon to Iraq and inside Iran. The aging Iranian leadership and its aging allies such as Badr Organization’s Hadi al-Amiri in Iraq, Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon and the relatively weak Assad regime is not exactly an alliance of strength. Their desire to foist all blame onto Israel is an excuse for Tehran’s own failings. Meanwhile, the Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is begging Europe to try to get around US sanctions.
Quietly, the regime knows the protesters were motivated by real, local concerns. Recent arrests targeted merchants and others, accusing them of “economic crimes.”